Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hosting is the Simplest!

People who have lived with me before know that I tend to get a little bit…frazzled when it comes to throwing parties. I’m far from a perfectionist in my everyday life, but something in me always just wants to dazzle when it comes to entertaining. EVERYTHING. MUST. BE. PERFECT. There must be more than enough food, pretty-yet-quirky flowers peeking out of every corner, and the note-perfect playlist streaming from the speakers. I may or may not have woken up at 7am the morning before a Sunday potluck party at a house I shared with 5 (!) other women in Boston and made three huge pans of cole slaw and potato salad. Each single pan fed about 20, and we were expecting about 25 or so people total. You see, I might laze out when it comes to picking up my clothes from the floor and, say, writing my Thanksgiving post for my blog, but when it comes to feeding my loved ones I want to go above and beyond and do it 187% right. I guess it's the easy way of showing I care.

At this year's Thanksgiving, by far the largest dinner party I have ever helped host, I wasn't snappish and I wasn't bossy. I was just happy. For the first time ever, Jeff and I welcomed both sets of our parents (along with some dear friends) into our home for a holiday together around our table. It felt like a rehearsal dinner for our marriage, without the room filled with tons of bridesmaids and groomsmen and the stress of the Big Day to come. It felt like a snapshot of what our life will be together. It felt great.

We started cooking the evening before, after another stellar meal at Le Petit Crevette, with ANTM and Project Runway in the background. Jeff made a pot roast, substituting cran-apple juice for his usual apple juice. Seasonal! The end result the next day was a roast perfectly fit for a Thanksgiving table...sweet with that hint of cranberry tartness.

And speaking of cranberries, I made my very first cranberry sauce on Wednesday night. Alison's mom (a fab cook) sent me her recipe, which included a mix of cranberries, sugar, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. I knew the palates of my Thursday-evening crowd, and I had a feeling that the clove/ginger combo might be a little too spicy and exotic for the majority of people. So, I kept her proportions and made a few tweaks. It turns out cranberry sauce is simple to make, and also very fun. Mix two cups of water with two cups of sugar and set in a pot to boil, mixing until the sugar dissolves. Next, add two 12 ounce bags of cranberries. Marvel at their gorgeous color and their shiny prettiness. So round! So festive! Then, the fun begins. Stir in the berries and listen to the soft "pop pop pop" as each berry bursts in the heat. Stir occasionally until about 15 minutes later, when this berry/water mixture has somehow magically become a sauce. At this point I added the ginger Alison's mom suggested, and then added two tablespoons of grated orange peel at the suggestion of a few other recipes I scrounged up on Epicurious.

The result wasn't groundbreaking...just simple, orangy cranberry sauce that went particularly well with...

We finally stopped eating these cornbread muffins yesterday. I didn't think making 24 muffins for 9 people was excessive, but I guess it might have been a tad overboard. I thought these were just okay, not fabulous. They were not sweet at all, which was good. It's not like I'm some Southern cornbread purist, ranting at the heathens who like their sweet cakey cornbread, but I tend to agree -- save it for the breakfast corn muffins. They were very dense. I don't know if this is how they were supposed to turn out or if this was a tiny baking snafu, but there was just no airiness or softness to each muffin. Jeff says he liked them, and I think he'd tell me otherwise, so I'm going to say that maybe this particular recipe wasn't to my exact taste. Next time I'll make cornbread in a pan (or on the skillet, as I did once), which could help with the texture issue.

My final Wednesday step was to make the cupcake bottoms for my chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, compliments of the Magnolia cookbook. These had different ingredients I'd ever used in a cupcake; buttermilk, brown sugar and regular sugar, and baking soda. I kept sneaking spoonfuls of the batter (again, I made enough for 24 cupcakes...which, ridiculous), which made for many, many more dirty spoons than necessary. The batter was SO creamy and delicious, which made me confident about the end result.

It's not like a chocolate cupcake is going to be all that bad, but the cake part of this recipe was sweet without being overbearing and had a texture that held up to big dollops of cream cheese frosting without being too dry. I frosted them right before dessert (cups and cups of confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, and butter -- yum). I now regret tossing the bowlful of extra frosting (the recipe made way more than enough). Well, maybe not. I could see that being a 9pm Thanksgiving night snack, which wouldn't have been the best idea.

My final contribution to the meal was a ginormous pan of apple crumble, served with vanilla ice cream. Yes, the recipe says it feeds 10 to 12, and yes, I did pretty much double this recipe for the 9 people present, but who wants to be at a party where there's not enough crumble to go around? I certainly wasn't going to be the one to go without, my hostess status be damned!

I decided to throw caution to the wind and keep the peels on my apples, because I like peels and that's where a ton of the apple experience comes from. I also substituted a few Gala apples in the place of Granny Smiths, but you couldn't really taste the difference once the apple slices were rubbed with cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon juice. I poured oddles of oaty topping over the whole mess of apples (oats, butter, more brown sugar, flour) and then baked for 55 minutes until the apples were soft with melted butter and softened, sugary oats. Spooned over vanilla ice cream, this made for a good meal ender.

Jeff's contributions to the meal (or, as Noodle in last post's comment might put it, "the meal itself") were gobbled up right quick, as always.

Here's his "healthy option" of bean salad (and not pictured is his other "healthy option" of Brussels sprouts).

Here's what's left of the main star turkey, which we actually barely got a chance to taste at all.

My favorite, as it involves bread products as its main ingredient, the stuffing. Keep in mind as you view this picture that this stuffing contains a super secret ingredient.

Some people use cornbread for their stuffing, which is very delicious. Some people throw in all sorts of tasty ingredients -- sausage, sage, squash, apples. Stuffing can be whatever you want it to be. This particular stuffing had the best of every single world. You see, we live very near the neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, which once and (and still does have) a very large Italian population. This means a dotting of authentic and very good Italian bakeries all up and down Court Street, only a few blocks away from us. One of those bakeries serves loaves of something that will change your life. Lard bread is bread with lard and chunks of sausage baked right in. Every greasy tear of the bread is rich and hunked with deep red pieces of spicy meat. It. Is. Amazing. We try to save it for special occasions, mostly because we're usually too lazy to walk that far down to get it. Lard bread stuffing was as good as it sounds.

Finally, the staple of the Gordon Thanksgiving table, my mom's sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

Purists would wrinkle their noses at this mixture of mashed canned yams, pineapple, and cinnamon, topped with a bag of baby marshmallows (that's the entire recipe). But I say eff the purists, because this always tastes so deliciously sweet and perfect. It's the perfect homey dish, and I always get my hand smacked for trying to steal sheets of burnt marshmallow from the top without taking the potato part underneath.

We finally threw out the last of the leftovers on Monday night and plan on not eating ever, ever again.


noodle said...

"It felt like a snapshot of what our life will be together." = cutest line ever written.

Also, your Thanksgiving sounds wonderful and cozy and delicious.

Also, we're like officially adults. Or you are, at least. How weird? It seems like just yesterday we were hosting ridiculous very un-adult 121 Morrisson parties.

SPG said...

But those were the best parties EVAR!